The use of an image for the purpose of conveying a message holds properties capable of creating a powerful impact without needing much else of an explanation. Thinking about images, and how they are used to send messages with impact, I am reminded of Sontag in Regarding the Pain of Others. Sontag writes about how photographs, primarily war photography, are an effective way to communicate emotion and can be framed to produce a powerful narrative.
Although panels in graphic novel and war photographs have their differences, the same concept that Sontag writes about can also apply to the pictorial depictions illustrated in Book Two of March. Sontag explains that war is brutal and impersonal, it is a faceless mass of indiscriminate killing. Anyone, regardless of their loyalties or associations, can be killed. Photography is capable of putting a face to something. An image can capture the moment and put a face to war, making war seem more human and personal. When someone puts a face to war with an image, war is no longer an abstract form of violence, killing and suffering; but rather, one can see it tangibly as people suffering and feeling emotions, just like any of us. With an image, we no longer simply see the numbers of casualties or how many are displaced; instead, we see the faces of the killers and the killed. We see people.
Looking at the images, the ones that I put under close study are the panels that show Parchman Farm State Penitentiary between pages 99-108 in March. For me, as I looked at these images I felt both a sense of familiarity and of discovery.
During my senior project last spring, I lived in Mississippi for two months volunteering at the Rosedale Freedom Project. My host mother during my stay was Ms. Chapman, a prison guard at Parchman Farm. She would tell me stories of what guards would do to incarcerated individuals, as well as explained what the conditions were like. I even had the opportunity to visit the prison one day and see the front gate and the main compound in the distance, which explains the sense of familiarity. It was powerful that March gave a perspective from within the prison, a place that is mysterious, with plenty of unknowns––especially in the United States. The way Nate Powell represented the prison as a very dark place added created a sense of evil in the prison, as if there is a sense of hopelessness created from years of people who were detained within its walls. In doing so, I am drawn to the details in the image, I look for what the artist chooses to show in the darkness.
In terms of typography, we can see how the words appear to be are bold, harsh, and disorganized. In terms of the use of language, the guard’s language comes off as aggressive, short, and choppy; whereas the language of the incarcerated freedom riders, it comes off as strong, indifferent, and persistent. The combination of language and art made me feel like I was discovering something, as if I was present in this moment, watching all of these interactions go down between the incarcerated individuals and the guards.
From what we see in these panels, both in the use of visualization and in language, we see the harsh prison environment the writers intended to create. In doing so, they heighten the idea of the incarcerated freedom riders by showing their resilience through the abuse from the prison guards––a powerful scene in this graphic novel.